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Debating the Kritik and Policy Arguments in the Same Debate

yin yangMany teams seem too rigidly tied to a single argumentative strategy. I can comprehend the value of being able to gain expertise about a particular argument and pummel less informed opponents with superior knowledge. But does that require you to go for it in every single debate you have? The one-dimensional focus of these teams is often not even tied to individual arguments, but rather to an overarching strategic focus. I’ve seen teams that just don’t read kritiks, and others that never read disads. Why does this happen?

Despite whatever allegiance you may hold to individual arguments (or strategic focuses), it’s useful to be able to advance a diverse collection of arguments in debates. First, by expanding your argumentative diversity, you increase your strategy’s flexibility and augment your ability to react to innovative new arguments. Second, diversity makes it more difficult for the other team to effectively respond. Now, it’s just as inadvisable to throw every argument in the box at the other team with plans to go for whatever is mishandled, as it is to rigidly tie yourself to a single argumentative focus. But, the optimal strategy strikes a balance, delivering a broad range of credible arguments (“credible” meaning both that the arguments are well developed, and that you are personally capable of going for them).

In my experience, debaters form a strict preference for either kritik or policy strategies. This doesn’t make sense to me. I think that every 1NC should advance both types of arguments, and that 2Ns should be prepared to go for either (not to mention topicality, theory, case turns, and so forth). The substantive differences between these two styles of arguments enable debaters to radically broaden the scope of their argumentative strategy in significant ways. A secondary strategy that operates in a different framework from your primary offense provides an invaluable out when everything else goes wrong. Your sweet CP probably can’t save you when the other team has cut an amazing new link turn against your net-benefit, but a kritik sometimes can. Flexibility between kritik and policy arguments also makes the debate much more difficult for your opponents, commanding attention in ways that overly similar arguments cannot. Debaters can sometimes group disads or T violations, but very rarely can they simultaneously address both a kritik and policy argument in the same manner.

The most important technique for effectively deploying both kritik and policy arguments in the same debate is the ability to argue for either independently. I will not attempt to tackle that issue, since it has already received extensive coverage elsewhere and exceeds the scope of this comment. Instead, here are a few pieces of advice regarding how to effectively incorporate both into one debate, presuming you possess the requisite knowledge regarding each of the individual positions:

-    Beware The Double-turn – Argument diversity doesn’t mean explicit contradiction. I’m not suggesting that it’s totally inadvisable for the kritik to link to the policy strategy just as much as the aff (although this is certainly up for debate), but rather that any two arguments read by one team should not be diametrically opposed to each other. So, for example, I think it can be very dangerous to read a security K and a deterrence good DA. It’s not just that your impacts, in that case, simply contradict and cancel each other out. Rather, the two positions question the fundamental approach of the other. The deterrence DA suggests that security critics are focused on the wrong problem and that their advocacies are not only politically ineffective, but globally catastrophic. The security K, on the other hand, suggests that the deterrence DA is premised on self-fulfilling constructions that make all of the impacts inevitable. Neither position is a good place to be in once you’ve decided to choose one strategy.

-    Be Careful About Impact Calculus – Don’t label one issue as “the biggest impact in the debate” if you’re advancing distinct strategies with different impacts. Doing so clues in the other team about where their offense can outweigh everything else that’s involved in the debate.

-    Do Not Over-Rely On “Separate Worlds” Arguments – The fact that you have a framework does not mean that the arguments cannot interact. The problems above are real ones, and absent well-developed responses, they can’t be simply dismissed as irrelevant.

-    Consider The K Net-benefit – Some kritiks are compatible with policy strategies (objectivism, for example, could probably be paired with a tax deductions CP that already has another disad as a net benefit). This allows you avoid the risks outlined above, while not limiting your options too much, since you can still go for either the K or CP/DA alone if that’s more strategic.

-    Make Good Decisions – Incorporating a kritik into your 1NCs will only get you so far if other teams realize that you are decisively unlikely to go for. Be sure to punish teams who perceive you as one-dimensional by going for arguments when they’re clearly mishandled.

-    Stay Unpredictable – As a caveat to what I’ve just said, it is sometimes useful to go for the arguments that you’re less comfortable with even if it’s not necessarily the most strategic option, such as debates where the result is already a foregone conclusion. In these cases, if you go for the arguments that you’re less comfortable with, you’ll demonstrate flexibility to your future opponents, and hopefully you’ll learn something while you’re at it.

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